By Robert Strauss
The stars, felt Robert Glazer, were telling him to move on. His father, Sam, and he were having a disagreement about a development project in their hometown of Cleveland. His girlfriend of several years and he were having a falling out. Friends in New York wanted him to come into various finance businesses, but that didn’t seem like the real answer.
It wasn’t quite a mid-life crisis, since in his early 30s, he was a bit short of that. It wasn’t failure, since a number of his investments in real estate, risk-arbitrage and other securities had done quite well.
“I turned to what I had always done for relaxation, going to the race track,” said Glazer, W’80, WG’81. “I headed up to Northfield Park. I needed a little vacation. I needed a little soul searching.”
After a few days betting the standardbreds at Northfield Park, where his parents had taken him as a kid on warm, summer nights to see the trotters and pacers, Glazer had one of those sure-I-can-do-it moments. For 20 years, he had been watching drivers fly around the track in their sulkies and been gazing longingly at the smiling faces in the winner’s circle.
“I grabbed a trainer and went to some horse auctions,” said Glazer. With $250,000 – a fraction of what he was going to spend on that Cleveland waterfront development – he bought seven yearling horses at an auction in Harrisburg, PA. Now, 14 years later, Glazer has been voted Owner of the Year by the United States Harness Writers four times in the last seven years, including last year. No owner has ever been given the award so many times.
Though many of Glazer’s horses have done exceedingly well, last year’s star was the brightest. Glazer had bought a yearling in 2001 named Pacific Wish for $150,000, a fairly high price. He renamed the horse No Pan Intended – most of Glazer’s horses getting their names as a take-off in some way from his Peter Pan Stables. The horse did well in 2002 as a two-year-old, making back $115,883, but that was hardly extraordinary. Last year, though, No Pan Intended became only the 10th horse in history to win pacing’s Triple Crown – the Cane Pace, Little Brown Jug, and Messenger – and also the Breeder’s Crown title, winning a cool $1.46 million in purses along the way.
“When I started this, I thought, ‘Well, if I could break even and have a lot of fun, that would be great’,” said Glazer. “Now this. What could be a better life?”
Glazer said he didn’t take the straight path in, during, or out of Wharton. He was all set to go to MIT, his best subjects at Hawken, the private school outside of Cleveland he attended, being math and science.
“I hadn’t given much thought to Penn, but they sent me a letter telling me I had been accepted as a Ben Franklin scholar and would I come out and see the campus,” he said. “Well, I have to admit, I went and the head of the day’s activities seemed really friendly and smart . . . . Then I drove around Philly and it all seemed so impressive after Cleveland, which had not gone through any of its urban renaissance. I was hooked.”
He got into a combined undergrad-MBA program, but ended up graduating in four-and-a-half years, at the end of a fall semester.
“None of my undergrad friends were still around, and I never connected with the grad students, who were mostly much older than me anyway,” he said. He said he spent a lot of his last semester going to his favorite Philadelphia restaurants and the now-defunct Liberty Bell harness track in Northeast Philadelphia and the Garden State Park racetrack in Cherry Hill. When he did graduate, his parents, who had divorced, were both having physical problems, so despite offers in Philadelphia and New York, as an only child, he felt compelled to go back to Cleveland.
His father had been a major housing, commercial and hotel developer in Cleveland and, along the way, had invented the Mr. Coffee machine. So there was plenty of family business for Glazer to oversee and learn from. Wharton friends encouraged him to go in with them on risk-arbitrage, and so he tried that, too. He gave a bridge loan to a small movie company named New Line Cinema – which eventually became a much-bigger movie company.
“I tried a little bit of everything,” he said. “There were times I knew I would rather be in New York or someplace else, but things seemed to be working well in Cleveland, too.”
Glazer’s mother, Molly, had always called him Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up. Thus, the genesis of the Glazer stable name. He admits it was not without cause that she called him that.
“Everything growing up seemed pretty good,” he said. After all, Joe DiMaggio, the embodiment of Mr. Coffee who did the company’s advertisements, was a family friend.
“For the first few years, we’d do the big trade show in Chicago. Joe would come there, and we’d have Joe DiMaggio autographed baseballs as giveaways,” said Glazer. “At one point, we had boxes and boxes of them in my mother’s garage. None of us ever retained them. Who knew how valuable they would be?”
Wherever Glazer would travel, though, he’d find the harness track, savoring great memories of his youth.
“I remember the day my father and my best friend and his father went to Thistledown, the thoroughbred track outside of Cleveland. I had to be only 11 or 12,” he said. “I would select a horse, and my father would go up to bed. If I lost, he absorbed it. But I won a lot, too, so he gave me the money, which was like $600. I said, ‘Wow! This is great!”
He would then go to the track at nights or in the summer all through high school. Since thoroughbreds ran primarily in the days then, leaving harness racing to the evenings, Glazer became a harness fan. He became serious about his handicapping, following every horse everywhere in the Racing Form, and, when he could, in real life.
“Bob is like a lot of people who got interested in the track in high school or college,” said Moira Fanning, the publicity director of The Hambletonian Society, and a long-time friend of Glazer’s. “But he’s unique in that he made it into a career. A lot of people crashed and burned thinking they could walk into racing. But Bob studied and studied. He would always be thinking of the next thing and be ready to ask the right questions.”
Glazer admits he made a bunch of mistakes in his first years in the business. His initial yearlings, for instance, couldn’t race right away – there are no races for one-year-olds – so he spent a lot of money housing and feeding them until they could. He had to learn what to look for in good horses and how to meet and employ good trainers.
But what he did know was that he knew he didn’t know.
“For starters, he went to all the farms and looked at all the yearlings,” said Brian Magie, a prominent New Jersey trainer who has often trained Peter Pan Stable horses. “He has educated himself in the business first hand. And he is one of those people who has combined his intelligence and his passion, which is harness racing.
“He is definitely hands-on, which some trainers don’t like,” said Magie. “But I don’t mind it because he always has a good answer, a good reason for doing something. And now look at his success.”
Glazer now has more than 200 horses, spread out through 10 training facilities in six states and Ontario. (Peter Pan is not a physical stable, but a corporate entity.) He has six stallions – including No Pan Intended – and a nascent broodmare business. At any particular time, he has as many as 75 of his horses at tracks, ready to race.
“Anyone who is in the racing business who tells you they know all about it is delusional,” said Anne Doolin, the marketing director of Red Mile, a track in Lexington, Kentucky. “Bob will never tell you that. He is always studying.”
“But what makes him wonderful for the business is that he is offbeat, and that is why the guys at the track and the people up in the stands love him,” she said, noting that Glazer is most well-known at the track for his sometimes unconventional wardrobe.
For a time, Glazer took an apartment at Manhattan’s sophisticated St. Regis Hotel. One night he came home late to find a crowd around the piano in the lobby. Before taking the elevator up, he said, he had to sneak a look.
“It was Billy Joel. He had just done a concert and here he was playing oldies with people at the hotel,” said Glazer. Problem was, no one knew the words. Glazer, still a heavy rock fan, knew them all. “I start singing, and he says, ‘You’re the only guy here who knows this stuff. Sit on the bench with me.’ I had the time of my life for an hour-and-a-half. The next morning, I get up and go out and the doorman says, ‘Hey, your piano player just left. He said he needed you on tour.’”
Doolin said that going out with Glazer is called “Bob-crawling” in the harness business. But there is one constant: his mother, Molly.
“He is really good with her. She is at every big race. Everyone knows her, and I think that is another reason why they like him,” said Doolin. “When No Pan Intended won the Breeder’s Crown, she was there with him, and he had tears in his eyes. She was the first one he hugged. It couldn’t have been anyone else.”
Glazer said his move into breeding has been slow in coming, but calculated.
“You want to go toward the next thing, but you have to be smart about it,” he said. “I know that one day I don’t want to be going to every yearling sale. Already, I see a lot of races on the satellite from my house, especially when I have horses going at many tracks.”
“But as long as I get a thrill out of it, I’m going to keep racing,” he said. “When the planets line up and you have a No Pan Intended and a year like 2003 and I can share it with my friends and family, well, what is better than that?”